It´s fascinating to follow the debate following Bryn Terfel´s cancellation of his upcoming Wotan appearances even if I´m not really interested in the matter per se. New articles in The Telegraph and an interview with his wife in Daily Mail has spurred a furious debate on diverse opera discussion groups about the relative values of family, opera, commitments, sacrifices etc.
Looking at the whole affair rather dispassionately from the outside (I haven´t bought a ticket to the performances and I am no fan of Terfel), my take on the situation is as follows:
Bryn Terfel has actively been seeking mainstream stardom status as well as the accompanying fees. Upon achieving such status however, follows a higher degree of responsibility compared to an “ordinary” singer.
The ROH Ring is not just any opera production – it is probably the biggest single event of the past 5 years at the ROH, and with a set-up relying quite heavily on the presence of Bryn Terfel´s star quality. It´s understandable, of course, if Bryn Terfel wants to make changes in his future life-style, but the professional way to do this is to honour short-term commitments and then cancel or work something out with future engagements. It is deeply irresponsible towards the opera-going public not to mention the operatic management to cancel such a major appearance on such short notice. Even when deeper family problems than the much-quoted finger of his son may be at the core of this (which is none of our business, of course, despite mrs. Terfel chosing to divulge them to the Daily Mail).
Opera most certainly is not a matter of life and death, and certainly it shouldn´t take precedence over family – it is much simpler: It´s a job. Bryn Terfel signed a contract. In his business, contracts are signed years in advance. His privileged position in this business taken into consideration, you may reasonably expect him to plan his scheduled commitments allowing for smaller emergencies in the private sphere.
Again, all the above is only valid assuming he’s learned the part (Wanderer) and remembers the other two Wotans.
Looking somewhat dispassionately at this from the outside – I am personally quite unaffected by his non-Wotan-appearances, thinking him unsuitable in this repertoire anyway- the only explanation making sense to me is a combination of a lack of preparation with private problems. And this, in my opinion, is both deeply disrespectful and unprofessional behaviour.